On the Disability Rights Movement: how to paint the picture that needs to be painted?

Many, many posts over the last 5 years have highlighted the considerable debates going on regarding disability issues (welfare, employment, media portrayal etc.), as well as the place of disability itself within wider agendas (poverty, rights, legislation etc.)

And many various posts in the last few months have discussed both fundamental debates about the underpinnings of disability (‘sickness’ and ‘disability’, questions around the social model, the unity or separateness of different impairment groups etc.) and the current state of the Disability Rights Movement itself[1].

Pulling all of this together, we can see the Disability Rights Movement to have lost direction, become narrow and not at all cohesive compared to where it has previously been.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this and what can be done about it. With so many fundamental questions, my feeling is it’s difficult to draw any kind of overall picture that might have an element of cohesion or consensus behind it. Without such cohesion or consensus, any attempts at future improvement are much less likely to be successful. Trying to draw such a picture is, I think, what the calls[2] for a Disability Rights Taskforce have been driving at: the establishment of a process that can explore a wide range of questions that are of different orders.

A Disability Rights Taskforce would therefore be how we can paint the picture that needs to be painted. To this end, we might think of the job of any Disability Rights Taskforce to be as follows:

Disability Rights Taskforce

By having such a process and being explicit about the different levels of issues to consider, I think we can give ourselves the best opportunity to create a cohesive Disability Rights Movement for the 21st century. If we move too quickly to the questions of strategy or tactics without considering the principles these need to be based on, we would run the risk of not creating a 21st century Disability Rights Movement that can build on and learn from the successes of the 20th century Disability Rights Movement.

Two questions flow from this:

  1. What do you think?
  2. Who do we need to persuade to make this happen?


[1] – There have been many posts on these topics. The ones that have informed my own thoughts and feelings are this are Lorraine’s, Jenny’s, Neil’s, Rob’s, and Mark’s.

[2] – Neil first mentioned a Disability Rights Taskforce, building on a previous idea about a commission on the future of disability rights in Britain.

Riding the Rainbow on #jaspersride

JaspersRideIn the end we cycled 272.3 miles up 12,850 feet of hills in a total of 25h28m. I burnt 11,274 calories as 13 others cyclists ranging in ages from 15 to 70 crossed through 7 counties across 5 days.

As we set off, the fundraising target of £5,000 was already achieved and (as I write) we edge ever closer to an amount that could never have been anticipated: £10,000 – incredible support for Warwick Maternity Unit and Special Baby Care Unit, Edward’s Trust and Sands, all of which are organisations who support families when the worst happens to their youngest babies and children.

Numbers, though, only tell a fraction of this story.

What #jaspersride was about and who it was for is Holly, Jon, Tessy and Jasper. Their story is here.

No single post, photo or tweet could capture the spirit of what they have created through Jasper’s Rainbow and this first of many endeavours. In bringing Jasper to this world for seven hours and what they have done since, Holly, Jon and Tessy have brought so many people together and encouraged us all to be our better selves in celebration of their baby boy. As they have put it themselves:

What would any mother wish their son to achieve in their life?

To know happiness and love?

To inspire and motivate?

To achieve remarkable things?

To comfort others?

To bring out the best in others?

To bring people together?

To leave the world a better place than before he existed?

Jasper Eric Hawkesford, your life was just 7 hours long but somehow you managed to do all that! I am full of pride and love for you.

This wasn’t of their choosing, and in it Holly, Jon and Tessy have been extraordinary when all they may have wanted to be was anything but.

Closing the productivity gap in public services

From Chris Dillow:

Nick Bloom and colleagues have estimated (pdf) that over a third of the gap in total factor productivity between the UK and US is due to inferior management. Some of this gap might be closed if only managers were more aware of best practice. In this context, the very fact that the UK’s productivity is lower than the G7 average is, in a sense, encouraging. It means we don’t need new innovations to boost productivity; we simply need to learn what the French, Germans and Americans are doing.

This is cheering, partly because it brings together a couple of things that Arbitrary Constant has bashed on about in the last few weeks:

  1. Very little can truly be thought of as ‘innovative’, and knowing how we get from innovative to ‘best practice’ to ‘improvement’ to ‘standard’ in public services is what matters
  2. Clearly related to this, we should never ignore the little things (even if that just means making meetings better)

Making absolutely boring and absolutely needed meetings better

Image via Opaque Design
Image via Opaque Design

I’ve been thinking about the little things a lot lately. Rather than trying to make big leaps in changing anything – public services, organisational cultures, personal behaviours etc. – it’s always felt to me that shifting things a little is a more effective way of getting to where you want to go.

This is what was behind a recent presentation in Scotland on making Self-Directed Support a reality in mental health. Rather than big pictures and sweeping strategies, the idea was to highlight small, practical things that people can do whatever part and level of the system they’re in.

(Some who think this way would therefore say: “You can’t eat an elephant all once”; to which some others reply “You can’t leap a chasm in two”. The best approaches are probably somewhere between the two – maybe a slightly nibbled elephant trying to jump really high?)

It’s why I’m endlessly fascinated by meetings. You couldn’t find a more fundamental component of running an organisation well, and yet meetings are done so universally badly it’s amazing how relatively little attention they get.

Over the last few weeks, Harvard Business Review has been running a series on effective meetings. In the spirit of this being one of the little things that can help make the big things better, here are three highlights from their series of posts:

Image from HBR

  1. Determine whether you need a meeting in the first place (see the diagram above to help with this). If you do need one, have a focused agenda, limit the people who come, and be focused
  2. End meetings well. Not (necessarily) by telling a joke, but particularly by checking the conversation is finished, checking people’s alignment, and agreeing actions and next steps
  3. For a wide variety of reasons, not having one-to-ones (especially with direct reports) might save time in the short-term, but probably creates problems in the long-run, and is not very efficient at all. Have them, and do them properly.

Why social care is like a Jackson Pollock painting

Or From Mondrian to Pollock; from systems to ecosystems: reflections on SCIE’s first social care roundtable

The kind folks over at SCIE have published some thoughts of mine on social care. Below is an extended version of that post (which might make even less sense than the shorter version)

Our concept of social care as a cohesive ‘system’ can compromise our ability to understand how complex it really is. The need to change social care to meet all future demands requires us to think in a much more sophisticated way.

Let’s start by questioning whether social care is even a ‘system’ at all. The formal definition of a system includes ideas like a fixed structure with a range of defined parts. Effects tend to follow causes, no matter how complicated the arrangements are. If one thing here is changed it predictably alters another thing there.

MondrianThis way of thinking has its attractions, not least of all to politicians, because it suggests that if only the right levers can be pulled then the right sorts of changes will happen. The picture of social care that such systems thinking paints is like a Mondrian painting: it is cohesive, makes a sort of sense, has patches of bright colour (i.e. excellence, though often at the margins) but all of which exists within a rigid structure.

Participants at a recent roundtable hosted by the Social Care Institute for Excellence suggested that a better way of thinking is to recognise the complexity of what we might call the social care ecosystem.

An ecosystem is a community of living organisms that can self-organise and interact dynamically with the environment around them. Its defining characteristic is the network of interactions between all of these factors, with effect only  often being deduced from cause only generally in retrospect.

This complex (rather than complicated) concept of social care as an ecosystem better reflects reality. Its ‘living organisms’ are the vast array of stakeholders in social care. Rather than a Mondrian picture, perhaps social care can instead best be thought of as a Jackson Pollock painting:

PollockIf we think of social care as a complex ecosystem rather than a complicated system, we need to shift our way of thinking on what needs to be ‘done’ for change to happen. As Mark Foden has said: complicated systems need a “build” mindset for change to happen, whereas a “grow” approach works best in complex ecosystems.

To change social care, we therefore need a much more sophisticated way to approach change.

What does this look like? SCIE’s roundtable identified three possibilities to start things off:

  1. Distributing power amongst all stakeholders through all aspects of co-production and by creating spaces in which the right mix of people, organisations, power, expertise, experience, styles, and cultures is brought together. (To mix metaphors, it isn’t just the ingredients that are important for change to happen, but also the way – the recipe – in which these ingredients are brought together.)
  2. Putting people at the centre of their care and support, through personalised approaches and continuing to put money more directly in their hands through Personal Budgets and Direct Payments.
  3. Spending more time and effort thinking about “scaling across” instead of scaling up, i.e. about spread rather than size. This reflection came from people recognising that approaches, particularly by smaller provider organisations, are working well precisely because their distinctive characteristics work best at a certain scale. Changing the scale risks affecting the characteristics. Rather, then, than fundamentally changing the size of an organisation (through scaling up) the smarter thing to do is think how to replicate it (scale across, or spread).

These three possibilities would work especially well in an ecosystem where the “growing” mindset is preferred to a “building” one. Whilst not abandoning entirely the levers and approaches a mechanistic way of thinking about social care has suggested in the past, now is the time to recognise the complexity of the social care ecosystem and update our approaches to change accordingly.

“Develop the virtues and talents with which every child is endowed”

From Rise of the Meritocracy*, by Michael Young:

“In the light of this approach [they] sought to give a new meaning to equality of opportunity.

“[It] should not mean equal opportunity  to rise up in the social scale, but equal opportunity for all people, irrespective of their ‘intelligence’, to develop the virtues and talents with which they are endowed, all their capacities for appreciating the beauty and depth of human experience, all their potential for living life to the full.

“The child, every child, is a precious individual, not just a potential functionary of society. The schools should not be tied to the occupational structure, bent on turning  out people for the jobs at any particular moment considered important, but should be devoted to encouraging all human talents, whether or not these are of the kind needed in a scientific world. The arts and manual skills should be given as much prominence as science and technology.

“[All] schools should have enough good teachers so that all children should have individual care and stimulus. They could then develop at their own pace to their own particular fulfilment. The schools would not segregate the like but mingle the unlike; by promoting diversity within unity, they would teach respect for the infinite human differences which are not the least of mankind’s virtues. The schools would not regard children as shaped once and for all by Nature, but as a combination of potentials which can be cultivated by Nurture.”

*Though the essay is satire, this passage clearly represents Young’s own views.

Two cultures in public services and how to bridge between the two

Image via Fanpop
Image via Fanpop

Matthew Taylor’s take on there being “two tribes” or cultures in public services is excellent, and well worth reading for anyone serious about understanding change in public services.

He describes the two tribes/cultures as follows: Networker Innovators are

budding social entrepreneurs tapping away on their devices at Impact Hubs. They tend to be young, impatient of the old ways of doing things, sceptical about traditional politics. They love big data, social media, hackathons and service design… If only they could get some start-up funding and prove their concept, it could be scaled up to change the world.

Whereas Hierarchical Managerialists are

the politicians and bureaucrats who run public service institutions and systems. They are middle aged, care worn, always tired and rarely with time for anything more than coping. Somewhere deep down they retain their idealism, but they have long since become reconciled to fulfilling their public service ethic through crisis management and marginal improvement… They are focused on local conditions, relationships and power structures. They see the biggest barrier to change not as the absence of new ideas, but the preponderance of old politics.

The result of these two tribes is that

Bright people and bright ideas fail to mature. Big systems and institutions fail to improve. Innovators add their voice to a lazy cynicism about ‘the system’ while bureaucrats pay lip service to innovation but think it is marginal to their day to day lives. Second rate ideas and second rate practices survive unchallenged, each justified by their own self-serving discourse.

Taylor’s solution to this is to bring the two systems together:

The networkers need to be challenged to understand the constraints of big systems, big budgets, complexity, risk and public accountability. The managers need to admit that many aspects of politics and public service are only the way they are due to historical accident or the positioning of vested interests.

This admittedly binary description resonates very much. My personal experience is as someone who is equally frustrated with both of the cultures described: there is clearly a significant need for large swathes of public services to change, but I sometimes find the solutions and methods proposed to secure this change both naïve and ineffective, to the point where they may undermine the very change they seek. (For example, my reflections on “innovation” demonstrate such frustration.)

(From a personal point of view, this means I don’t feel I belong to either of the cultures described, and can be misunderstood by both. I’m sure lots of folks feel they aren’t being described by either of these cultures! There are, though, a good deal of such anomalous folks around, and at different levels of the system.)

Image via StuffPoint
Image via StuffPoint

I’ve often reflected that the most successful efforts at change are when people understand the motivations and positions of “the other”; this is often, though not only, because they have been in the other person’s shoes at a previous point in their career.

This understanding seems to me to be a form of translation, bridging or linking, and it’s where I strongly believe effective change is most likely to start and be sustained in the complex world and systems of public services. It’s why the recent thinking on systems leadership – notably put forward by the Stanford Social Innovation Review – is something I’ve blogged on before: it gives concrete form to what these ‘translating’ / ‘bridging’ / ‘linking’ activities are. They include:

  • Seeing reality through the eyes of people very different from yourself
  • Building relationships based on deep listening and building networks of trust and collaboration
  • Having an ability to see the larger system and so building a shared understanding of complex problem
  • Fostering reflection and conversation that can challenge assumptions or existing mental models
  • Shifting the collective focus from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future… not just building inspiring visions but facing difficult truths about the present reality and learning how to use the tension between vision and reality to inspire truly new approaches.
  • Re-directing attention to see that problems “out there” are “in here” also, recognising that we are all part of the systems we seek to change
  • Re-orienting strategy by creating the space for change and enabling collective intelligence and wisdom to emerge: instead of trying to make change happen we focus on creating the conditions that can produce change
  • Working through a disciplined stakeholder engagement process, the nature of which can’t be predicted in advance
  • Transforming relationships among people who shape systems, rather than just working on systems themselves.

Talking with a fellow frustrated friend about this, we realised we both found Taylor’s analysis heartening. Understanding a problem goes a long way towards solving it, and being explicit about both the “two tribes” and adding some ideas as to how to bridge the gaps between the two hopefully helps to shift us to more effective change in public services.